top of page

Wetlands & Riparian Areas

Riparian area is the general term that describes the thick, often forested habitats around any body of water, from wetlands to creeks to sloughs to rivers.  These areas have a different community of plants that that of adjacent upland areas. requiring more water but not necessarily growing in the water like cattails or rushes.


Wetlands are lands that are saturated with or covered by shallow water for part or all of the year creating wet soils and supporting water-loving plants. They vary from very large complexes connected by streams, to small wetlands that lie in poorly drained depressions in the landscape, to fringes along the edges of lakes and rivers. In the Okanagan-Similkameen, the term wetlands can include shallow ponds, marshes, swamps, seasonally flooded fields, seepage areas, and bogs. Even if they dry out completely in summer, they are still classified as wetlands!  Whatever the size, wetlands have habitat that is critical for Okanagan wildlife and provide valuable benefits to humans.

Unfortunately, wetlands and riparian areas are the most critically endangered habitats in the Okanagan and Similkameen valleys, with some types sustaining over 90% loss.

riparian forest.JPG
WhiteLakePond1-A Pulham.JPG

What do wetlands and riparian areas do for you?

  • Thick vegetation at the creek edge will filter sediments and pollutants from storm water runoff, thus cleaning the water before it flows downstream

  • Tree and plant roots provide flood protection by slowing and dissipating high stream flows. They also stabilize stream banks and decrease soil erosion.

  • Multi-layered canopy, thick underbrush, and diversity of trees and shrubs provide food, nesting sites, shelter and escape cover for wildlife.

  • Large rotting woody pieces such as stumps, fallen logs, and root wads provide shelter and cover for fish, frogs, small mammals, and other aquatic life. Rotting fallen leaves provide nutrients for insects which are, in turn, food for a wide variety of wildlife species

  • Overhanging vegetation creates cool shady areas, thus providing critical refuge for wildlife (and humans!) during hot Okanagan summers.  Shady areas also keep the water cooler, preventing heat stress and even eventual death of fish and other aquatic life

  • Wetlands are natural filters -they clean our water before it returns to our rivers, lakes, and streams.

  • They act as sponges, absorbing large amounts of rainfall which helps reduce flooding.

  • They recharge groundwater and provide a buffer against drought

  • They cool the surrounding environment and regulate temperatures.

  • Wetland hold a multitude of medicinal and food plants.


Which local species depend on wetlands and riparian areas?

These lush habitats are some of the most critically important for wildlife in the Okanagan and Simlkameen. Because much of the region is arid and desert-like, riparian areas and wetlands are a literal oasis in the landscape.  Over three-quarters of wildlife species here will need to use riparian and wetland are for all or part of their life cycle, and all wildlife need them from which to drink or bathe.

Further Reading & Resources

Alberta Cows & Fish: Life in the Green Zone

Okanagan Similkameen Stewardship Resource Library
Caring for your Shoreline-

Caring for your Wetland-

A comprehensive and detailed overview of riparian ecosystems

bottom of page